At the height of the pandemic last April, I saw Facebook posts from friends and relatives in South Sudan showing top-level government officials wearing clip-on tags dubbed “virus removal cards”. The cards were said to contain chemicals that could prevent COVID-19.
President Salva Kiir; his deputy, Riek Machar; Defence Minister Angelina Teny; and other ministers were all spotted wearing the cards.
I wasn’t entirely surprised that a clever entrepreneur was out to make money from the pandemic. In Juba, the cards were selling for between $20 and $30. Elsewhere, similar cards were being sold in Japan, Lebanon, and the Philippines.
Manufacturers claimed that the cards’ main ingredient – chlorine dioxide – could kill bacteria and viruses. It is usually used to disinfect water and sterilise medical equipment.
It did not take long before South Sudanese netizens started poking fun at the virus removal cards on social media. Many wondered how the highest office in the land – the Office of the President – could have fallen for the scam. In an interview, the presidential spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe donated the cards “specifically for the leadership… because they said it will help to disinfect within three metres”…
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